Clarity and possibility

Clarity is not always a good thing. If you open Schrödinger’s box, the cat may be dead. But possibility may be an illusion: I hold onto hope for something which never materialises, until the hope dies by degrees. Too many such hopes, and hope becomes unbearable.

You will see I am not in my most positive mood.

I had many blessings at yearly meeting- hugs, gifts, encounters. New ideas increased my clarity. When I spoke in the auditorium there were many of the customary indications that it was ego-led, not spirit led. A Friend observed that she had not heard me speak at that YM, I heard an implication that I always had spoken at other YMs, and then I spoke at this one too. I was thinking of it the night before specifically as something I could speak on in Meeting. My heart was not beating loudly, it never does. And the synchronicities of it- my other experiences, my recent reading, seeing a man sitting alone, speaking to him later: I am clear what I said had value, and came to me as gift. It was worthwhile for others to hear it. It was ministry to the yearly meeting, and people came to me to express appreciation of it. It got into the minute. How positive I am can determine whether something is blessing or curse- I am clear enough this is ministry, and being given it is blessing.

My world is weird and inexplicable- everyone’s is, however clearly they realise that- and at yearly meeting I decided I had enough confirmation that the weirdness could delight me as well as


-that it might be worth taking some chances. For example that applying for a particular job might not be humiliation and judgment from beginning to end. I know the judgment is almost all mine, projected onto others and generally that does not make it bearable.

I am nearly or actually in tears as I write. Snap out of it, I command myself sternly. Become Positive!

As human relationships end, I can see there might be advantage in denying someone clarity- letting them have hope, without any intention of justifying it. Someone without hope might become a threat, and I can see that other ways of preventing me being a threat could also be unpleasant for me. Generally, my seething chaotic anger is directed inwardly at myself, and when it manifests to others it is never physical. Sometimes it is articulate passion, but more often it is conflicted: I fear what I want to say is ridiculous so the bits which escape me are inarticulate, confused and contradictory. Still the anger is perceptible, and might make someone feel a need to protect herself.

My negative mood convinces me that possibilities are illusion and certainties are of pain. It makes it harder for me to see others holding me in regard (admiring me is far too strong a word- any possible evidence of that at yearly meeting I must be misinterpreting, or at least the admirer is hopelessly deluded). So where there might be possibilities I see only horrible certainty. I see my wish for reassurance as the most disgusting neediness and my anger against myself increases. The cat may come out biting and scratching.

I am laying it on thick here. This is ridiculous- I am now smiling as I type. It is so difficult- only Godlike omniscience would satisfy me!

Life questions

MaryMary has more questions: Do you think all negatives have a positive somewhere?

No. If your leg is crushed in an accident, you may discover great reserves of grit and determination in learning to walk again, but I would rather find those reserves some other way. “You have climbed a mountain,” said a woman, admiringly, three years after I started to live full time, and I thought but did not say, no, I have climbed out of a pit: it has taken a great deal of my energy, and the result is that I am mostly tolerated. Society should make it far easier for people to find ourselves and be ourselves: far better in play and exploration as a child than years of tortured psychotherapy as an adult.

And yet, in those blackest moments, it may be most important to find the positives, to find anything which will keep you keeping on. Where is your motivation?

Rather than “all negatives have a positive”, as a bromide to encourage myself I prefer “Life is change”- you may experience it as a series of losses, but there are new delights, always, and nothing lasts for ever.

What is your most valued keepsake?

I don’t particularly value things. There is a photo of my parents’ wedding. Mum told me Dad had just told a joke, but in the picture he looks as if he has won at life, and she looks at him- not transported, as he is, but pleased at his happiness. Or so it appears to me. It shows them at their best, so is a good way to remember them. The image could live on in my mind if I lost the photo, or even lost all copies including digital copies. It is a symbol of the relationship and the people, not the people themselves.

I have a chess-board in which pieces, slivers of ivory, are anchored into slits in a leather board, folded flat into a case so you can pause mid-game- ideal if orders come in to go over the top, for a relative took it to the Great War trenches- but I don’t know the name of the relative, so it was valued for a long time, but its personal nature is at one remove for me. Folded, it is slightly thinner than a phone.

What’s most important in life?

Surely that is different for everyone, and will change throughout life. Positively, a sense of purpose and being valued, and negatively a sense of freedom from threat. A sense of threat can invigorate, unless it gets too much and I am merely terrified. Not having much of a sense of purpose I am compensating by valuing myself, seeing my gifts and talents. Life is a process. I will find uses for those talents, I have found some use for them, and should value that. So, being able to see the positives is good.

What’s the best childhood memory you have?

Working very hard to learn the Pathetique sonata, then thundering up and down the keyboard with it. Or, possibly, this memory of danger and triumph.

The power of negative thinking

To be happy, you just need to decide to be happy. Visualise success and you will succeed. “Proud curmudgeon” Oliver Burkeman disagrees.

Try not to think of a polar bear, and you will think of it- the same with failure. We can’t control thought through willpower.

People who have had nothing to drink, and salty snacks, were imagining quenching their thirst. Imagining it paradoxically reduced energy and motivation- it felt the same as achieving it. Those positivity affirmations may backfire, and feel as good as getting Success might. People relax, and their blood pressure decreases. Dieters fantasising about losing weight lost less.

Fear, anxiety, disgust all have value for us. We face risks. The drunk driver thinking “I am a good driver, I will get home safe” may lead to disaster. Whether a thought is positive or negative is less relevant than will it work for my good?

Accepting all emotions is liberating.

Though- one who focuses on how to accomplish a task, rather than minor risks, will perform more efficiently. An athlete should envisage doing the somersault. Worry does little good. And- as a lawyer, I have to construct the case against me to find how to refute it. What is the evidence on any particular point? A safety officer on an oil rig, with all that flammable material, needs to imagine everything that might go wrong, in order to prevent it. His term was “chronic unease”- but he is dealing with serious risks. “Don’t worry about a problem- worry at it” said Ian Fleming.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, ACT, does not judge thoughts as positive or negative but on whether it promotes effective behaviour. You have to be able to judge whether a risk is serious. Self-doubt improves performance, as it promotes thinking about ways to improve- if you also have self-compassion, and can value where you are.

Eliminate false hope. Mr Trump will not take the action the environment needs. Hope can make us bear unbearable situations, but blind us to possibilities. Hope works when we have no agency. Abandon hope, and do what you see may be done. When fortune is kind, the soul should fortify herself against its violence.

People after great life changes after a period of adjustment have the same level of happiness as before- the lottery winner gets pleasure from volunteering, and the paraplegic after a catastrophe gets pleasure as before. It is called “hedonic adaptation”- change has an effect, then we get used to it. Happiness is useful data: it may help you work out what can make you happy, so you can pursue that.

Buddhists say happiness does not depend on external circumstances, but on accepting things as they are- including what real chances there are of changing them. Everything is impermanent. Getting what you want may make you unhappy, if you imagine you desire something because the culture tells you you should. Change your relationship to thoughts and emotions generated by experience- do not resist them or dwell on them.

From The Power of Negative Thinking, radio 4.

Negative and positive

I moved this morning (Thursday) from negative to positive and I would love to know how.

I have a job interview coming up. I was thinking how much I hated interviews, how much effort it would be, how desolate I would feel after having been rejected again (of which I was certain) and how I dreaded it. I was thinking I will see her, which will give me perplexity and yearning, dissatisfaction, alienation and a sense of groundlessness. And other stuff, which makes me fear, or judge myself as wanting.

Liz came over as arranged, and we went out for tea and cake. I frightened her on Sunday with that outburst at meeting: my distress, and the effect it has on all of us. We shared our fears at meeting. One of us, his family has given an inspiring gift to the world, and he fears that when he is gone it will become less. It is a wonderful example and it might cease to be so. How can it be protected in all its beauty? Another fears for his daughter, beyond contact through facebook or telephone- yes, even in 2016.

And I fear for myself. My income is OK at the moment, and might just cease. There is little I can do about this, apart from look for work- see above. So. Afterword. I said the verse that plagues me- From the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken from them. Sue spoke of her fears for refugees and war zones, and I interrupted: “And I fear for myself”.

On Tuesday Gill say in our meeting room and observed that prayer hallows a place. This place is hallowed. It feels different from the other room, though the path through the garden by the gravestones is lovely, and the movement into the Real World starts at our gate.

Onywye. K came and held me and I let myself be held and after some consoling words she said that I should not use “the fuck word”. Yes. And today Liz said she was driven to think of when she had been a primary school teacher, and how if certain children could not stand it they could say their safe word and go somewhere that she could hear them. Would I like that? Rather than the expression of distress in the Meeting room.

In Oldham CAB I saw a couple. The woman had been on the sick and claimed income support. The man had run a shop, and made no profit from it. They thought they were entitled to IS because they had no other income, but they had not been because he had been working more than 24 hours a week. So they had to pay it back. They objected, but the rules were clear, there was nothing I could do, and I told them that- brusquely. All their anger at their situation suddenly focused on me- how dare I be so unhelpful? They wanted to complain about me. Jenny went to double check and explain more circumspectly, and in the corridor Shahzia asked,

“Are you OK?”

And my “No” let out so much under pressure in me it seems, now, that I could never put it back again. “Not in the meeting room”. Well-

And now I just feel different. That meeting, rather than frustration and despair, promises fascination and delight. The interview- meet new people, probably lovely people, show off my good qualities and possibly get an opportunity. Time spent with Liz- tea, cake, conversation- that could be it, or it could be something else.Arcimboldo, Spring

What I want III

I want to be safe. I do not and never have felt safe- this is not simply “because I am trans” and yet being trans has poisoned this, as everything else in my experience. I want to feel safe in the short term: medium/long term being less immediately important.

We were discussing Maslow’s hierarchy, and in this particular summary they are, Survival (food and water); Being safe; Feeling a sense of love and belonging; Having esteem; Self-actualisation; Knowing and understanding. Working with the homeless, said Eileen, knowing that they are not safe, she sees that they might consider the “higher” needs but only momentarily.

And so I retreat to my living room. This is only safe in the short term, and militates against “a sense of love and belonging” but has been the best I could do, given my false understandings of the world and my contempt for myself, and the way my other attempts at safety have been stripped from me as impossible and illusory. I wanted to fit in and support myself, and I could not.

I only sought work for safety. That is hardly unusual- I wonder how many people get beyond this stage if Maslow’s theory has any truth to it- but the safety I sought was against what will people think? in my particular false way of seeing that. My resentment is overwhelming: I resent being trans, even though I would not exist if I were not: this agglomeration of atoms as cis woman or cis man would be so entirely different from who I am. My rage and terror is greater.

I am not working towards medium or longer term safety because I do not see how: the effort will be too great, the chance of success too small. My old negativity has never gone away.

I get better. My contempt for myself lessens, as I realise its depth and bring it to consciousness. And now my contempt is conscious rather than the all-pervasive natural way things are, I may lessen it and consider my good qualities. Eileen did not understand why I needed to retreat, mentioning gifts including articulacy and intelligence. I can hear that, now. I would have heard it as a judgment- why do you not do something with them?- but not now.

Bringing this to consciousness I might start to consider medium-term safety rather than immediate safety.

Thinking, over the last three years I have been working as hard as I could, might bring me to amazed despair; or the hope that if I understand better I might manage more.

I want to be safe.
This is an entirely reasonable desire.

TItian, Diana and Callisto

Starting again

If I do stuff and nothing happens, what’s the point? I got this wonderfully elegant admission of failure and argument for despair on Kiwifarms, where they laugh at people. Well, indeed. I mess around on my blog, and watch recorded TV. I only don’t fit the “living in my parents’ basement” part of the clichĂ© because my parents are dead, and I am a bit old.

That last job. We thought we would open our doors and people would come rushing in, because they always had: in Oldham I used to arrive at 9am in January in the rain and find people queuing outside for the doors opening at 9.30, in the hopes of not being turned away. We simplified the service we gave drastically to cope with the demand. Yet almost no-one wanted my particular service, and I would sit idle, writing my diary or reading TVTropes on the internet. I did try some marketing and building relationships with potential referral agencies, but to little effect. With a string of failures over six years, I despaired and gave up, and am still given up.

No, I don’t want to apply for that job in Edinburgh. I don’t want to move to where they have not had a Summer and people are in their winter clothes (Frances reports) to take responsibility again. Even though I can see it is a good choice from limited options. I don’t want to go where my family are where I might try to re-establish contact, or might not.

I don’t practise the piano because of the amount of work necessary, and even when I did mistakes crept in. Aged 23 I could play Rhapsody in Blue from memory, and now I make mistakes with Ludovico Einaudi. Well, I have the time to practise, and I don’t.

Dunno. That meeting was good. I don’t quite get the man, whose reserve might be even greater because of my way of letting it all hang out, but at least we are working together.

I cycled thirty miles on Tuesday, in three hours. It is a beautiful circular ride, on country roads mostly with very little traffic, and rolling rather than hilly, though some of the inclines are a bit tough for me. It is the furthest I have cycled this century, in a day. I maintain fitness and increase my ability to get about.

I notice small, incremental achievements caused by my action. I am completely lacking in confidence: my first question is always “How am I wrong, here?” which when in balance may make me usefully flexible and now puts me in a funk.  Notice all the achievements. Notice all the positives.

Monet, En Norvégienne. La barque à Giverny

Mustn’t grumble II

-it could be worse.

Today, I have saved myself ÂŁ8.49 by reading my water meter. The water company sent a plumber round to see if I could save water, who put a mechanism in the cistern so I could use less water flushing and gave me a smaller washing up bowl. I have used thirty m3 of water in just under seven months, that is 30,000 litres or 150 litres a day: I don’t fancy carrying it five miles on my head. That is about low/ average in the UK, about 77p a day. The charges went up 10% on 1 April.

I cycled 25 miles on Tuesday, including two on minor roads which turned out to be stony and unmetalled- silent, beautiful trees, but boneshaking and unpleasant. It took about two hours and forty minutes- so I cycled not quite the distance of a marathon in more than the time top athletes would run one. I could not find the “historic church”- has the sign been turned round? I thought of cycling a similar distance this afternoon but did not get round to it.

I don’t want to be a glass half full person! I want to be a glass overflowing person!

I typed some emails about Quakers this morning. Yesterday, I did one about the knotty problem of arrangements for business meetings next year. It is knotty because there are underlying issues. This actually took much of the morning, though perhaps it could have been done in less time had I had less. I spend a lot of time thinking about clerking.

I had a nap in the afternoon. Yes, yes, small children and old people, but-

He called me a “Cross-dresser”! What? Well, cross, certainly-

I watched two episodes of Person of Interest, which has only got to season 3 in the UK. It is reassuring to have clear goodies and baddies, and the mindless violence is quite fun, and the political message- the baddie was a corporate bigwig, making lots of money- fits my politics.

Should I apply for that job? It is a move of 300 miles north, for a contract lasting six months. I would be a professional tranny- campaigning, training and lobbying about hate crime against the trans community. It might shake me out of my rut, and given that a trans woman would be good for the role they might be more likely to look more favourably on my work history.

That can make me miserable. But that is no reason to stop it- I am, after all, angry and miserable most of the time… H does not have cancer, and having worried so much about seeing the consultant does not feel much better now.

I read a bit.

One of my first questions in any situation is, how am I wrong? I don’t despise myself as much as I did; I am still dissatisfied. I can’t see a way to improve my life, particularly, and have less fear than I had that it could get much much worse.

I have been coughing for about four weeks. It sounds dreadful, but I don’t feel otherwise debilitated. I took off the UK Biobank activity monitor. For a week, it has monitored the duration frequency and intensity of all my activity, not just exercise as I had thought, by measuring speed of movement in three dimensions. I wore it out of some desire to do something useful, and now from my movements they will know that I sometimes do not shower until the afternoon. Though I have not yet sent it back…

Human givens.

Delacroix, The Winter - Juno Beseeches Aeolus to Destroy Ulysses' Fleet

Internally focused

I said I was internally focused, and explained that. “How wonderful!” said Bella, which surprised me, as I had seen it as a handicap. Yet-

My attention is focused on my internal experience rather than external experience. I read of phenomenology, the idea that my experience is not of that chair in my kitchen, itself, but of my own perceptions mixed with my understanding of chairs and that chair, but this is one stage further: I am always more concerned with my own feelings and internal responses than with what I perceive to be external to me. So seeing an argument, I would be more concerned with my own fear, and how I was expressing it, than with what the participants were saying.

I experienced this as oppression, as self-slavery. I would notice my fear, and fear it. I would endeavour not to let it show, but really deny to myself that it was showing rather than successfully prevent it showing. My desire was about preserving a comfortable emotional state rather than creating external reality. This makes me timid and retiring even though my feelings would make me extrovert, boisterous and assertive. Yes, really!

Yet what could it mean to see this positively? Part of my awareness is on my internal reactions. As I come to accept my own feelings, and fight them less, being aware of them is a benefit. I practised this in the supermarket yesterday. What am I feeling, now? The ground note is happiness: that was a really good weekend. Feelings do not stop me noticing what is external to me, unless I desire to manage them rather than accept them.

(Line from Humans on Channel 4- “What is it like to be a teenage girl?” –Frightening, confusing- like my emotions are too big. Well, yeah. We learn better ways of being.)

By the trolleys, a woman asked if I had two pound coins, so she could release one. I had, and gave her two pound coins for one ÂŁ2 coin. She was delighted: “Thank you so much! That is your good deed for the day.” Whereas, I thought it a small thing to do, and was pleased to help, and pleased to have the friendly contact with a stranger. You do too, don’t you? Doesn’t everyone get pleasure from such things?

Outside the tube station, on the tube, at St Pancras, the mood is relaxed in the sun on Sunday. Others wear dresses besides me. D says, it is strange to come back into London after that weekend. I think of returning from retreat before, like lowering myself into a bath of cold sewage, moving from that relaxed and authentic space back to the stress and tension of “the Real World” which is actually greater illusion. I did not feel like that. I felt, this is my world, where I can be who I am- just like on retreat. Though when I explained that, I worried that I had shut him down.

Berthe Morisot, Paule Gobillard en robe de bal

Cycling at night

The light is beautiful. The last light in the north-east sky, fifty minutes after sunset; the ethereal reflection of my headlight on my racing handlebars. That cyclist has a very bright headlamp. Once I turn off the main road out of the town onto the country road through Candleford (nothing to do with Flora Thompson) there are very few cars: fewer than twenty in nine miles, in either direction. The air is balmy- in shorts and t shirt I overheat.

I take it slowly and carefully. The second glass of wine has a cost, as I did not judge the curve on that roundabout well. I know the road, but not quite well enough.

The light which dapples through the trees in sunshine is beautiful, and now the trees make it quite dark. And the light of those two cars’ headlights glares into my eyes, so I could hardly see. I slowed down, pulled into the side, and stared at the grass verge passing to keep in the right place on the road.

I was not scared but reasonably apprehensive of this. I have only cycled at night once before, last century.

Having done it with only slight winds in such warm weather, I might do it later in the year. This is the step I can take, now, towards freedom. I have said I was doing teenage, and never more than now, using the bicycle more so I can get out of the house. I can go out in the evening if I can get home afterwards.

(I didn’t like it. It scared me. The unspoken Truth, the Truth you dare not state-

Different voices in me. One resists. It is all too much. I do not like it. I feel a reasonable response is, it is bearable. It has its pleasures. I am not that Other Person, and freed from that expectation in me I can become a more powerful person than I experience myself, now. What is possible ceases to be merely ridiculous and poor and repellent. It is the step forward which is available.

I want to be in that other place, but this is the step forward I can take, so I take it.

Positive thinking! The experience had beauty, though it was not merely and entirely pleasant. It achieved something I wanted, and holds forth the prospect of achieving more later. Only positive thinking lets me move forward.

Turner, Fishermen at Sea

Positive or negative

How I see my life is a choice.

Negative: I have always felt out of control, blown about by winds, forced into decisions, uncomfortable in my feelings and the demands of the toxic world until I have hidden away, and I have no idea what to do now.

Positive: I have always done my best to advance my own interests, and acted in love courage and hope as best I may. I have retreated in order to heal, and now I have greater self-knowledge than ever before I may seek out what I want in my heart, and take steps to achieve it. I have always been surrounded by love and beauty.

I trained as a lawyer: I could put arguments for both, but one is from a place of fear and resistance, the other from love and acceptance. I feel the second is more accurate, as well as more useful, more able to encourage me. I face this choice of negativity or positivity.

Sometimes I become negative. After the job interview and the Positively Trans workshop digging up my past, I got a little down, and I could not see something particularly positive in my life, it was obscured by something apparently negative. So I acted in fear, and did less well than I would have done, acting in love.

I hope to notice when I am negative, and talk myself out of it. It behoves me to seek the positive.

As I looked into Liz’s eye, I could see the sky reflected in her iris, and her eyelashes- yes, they are definitely eyelashes- reflected shadow in this patch of light. Everything is beautiful.

I have had repeated calls for a Mr Hutchinson from a company, and cannot persuade them that he does not live here or not to phone. So:

Mr Hutchinson?
-I’m phoning about the Government’s Solar Scheme. Would you answer a few questions?
Are you the homeowner?
What kind of house do you live in, sir?
-A castle with a moat.
How do you heat your castle, sir?
And is the castle listed in a conservation area?
-No, we only put it up last year.
I think I’ll end the call now, sir.

A moat? Well, it had been raining a lot that day.

Lucas Cranach, Melancholy detail

Kathryn came to Meeting the second time when I chose to read Advices and Queries 27, my favourite:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

She liked it, and the joyous, dramatic way I read it. We talked deeply, and my status as a recluse is relevant to her life, as she faces momentous choices. I don’t want anything from her: I mean, it would be nice if she became wildly enthusiastic and in twenty years was clerk and elder, but only if that is right for her. I thought of it as a synchronicity, a series of delightful accidents leading to that encounter, but this does not need to have been God’s Plan: accidents will do.

The ground bass of my emotion is sadness at lost opportunity and missed experience, my sense of my wasted life- better than anger and resentment, perhaps- and perplexity: always, what shall I do now? Perhaps Nothing, as a positive choice. Meditate, contemplate, relax my chronic stress. If I could change that to appreciation, for

this is all there is, and it is beautiful…

Lucas Cranach, Melancholy detail